The food scares for 2010 have officially begun! A whopping 864,000 pounds of E.coli-tainted ground beef were recalled by Huntington Meat Packing in Montebello, Calif. earlier this week, according to the Associated Press. Although no illnesses have been reported yet, the tainted meat had made its way to “distribution centers, restaurants and hotels throughout California” — and should serve as good warning not to dine on “mystery meat” from eateries that can’t tell you where they get their beef from.

Of course, if you’re a student dependent on school lunches, cheap unhealthy meats are tough to avoid. Food, Inc. showed that some of the cheapest, dirtiest meats swept off the floors of slaughterhouses are massaged with ammonia — which doesn’t always kill E.coli — before being served in schools.

And a new series by Ed Bruske at The Slow Cook blog reveals what exactly happens in a school kitchen, specifically the kitchen at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in the District of Columbia. In the first of a six-part series, Ed reveals what exactly goes in to cafeteria “baked ziti” — “beef crumbles,” canned spaghetti sauce, noodles, and a lot of cheese (via Grist):

Reading the label, I saw that the contents [of the "beef crumbles"] were in fact “beef, vegetable protein, caramel color” along with a list of chemical flavorings and preservatives. It came from a company in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was supplemented with “USDA commodities.”

The canned spaghetti sauce was made by Giovanni Food Co. in Liverpool, N.Y. It was not as red as the spaghetti sauce I am used to and I found the pale color a bit odd and off-putting. The label said it contained “tomato paste, dextrose/and or high fructose corn syrup, potato or corn starch.” Perhaps what it needed was more tomato.

For dessert, kids got fruit packed in high fructose corn syrup — which gets Ed bemoaning both the lack of fresh ingredients and flavor — and the overabundance of fat and sugar. The resulting rise in childhood obesity is no surprise.

There is good news here, however. In the same week as the year’s first beef recall, Michelle Obama announced a new initiative to reduce childhood obesity. Reports the New York Times:

The effort will be the first administrationwide initiative run by Mrs. Obama, aides said, and she intends to speak to a gathering of mayors about it next week. She also expects to get involved in the Congressional effort to reauthorize the federal school lunch program, and she did not rule out testifying on Capitol Hill.
Let’s hope the first lady, who’s been proving her eco-foodie creds with her organic garden and White House Farmers’ Market, can swiftly get the “beef crumbles” out of school lunches. Part of this will involve convincing her husband’s administration to finally pick a new undersecretary of food safety for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, who’ll actually help make our meat supply safer. Right now, the USDA’s webpage about that crucial position pulls up a nice white blank.

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